Dancing and Digging and Dreaming

This weather is everything, amirite? It's glorious. It's planting weather, wildflower weather, baby goat weather. It's hiking weather, biking weather, get outside and soak it in weather. Balmy and beautiful, green and moist and full of flowers. We'll take it, California, not for granted but with gratitude and appreciation for the impermanence of it all. We'll not try to hold on to it too tightly, we'll just let it graze across our foreheads, caress our hair with a warm breeze as it passes by. We might try to take it in, though; breathing deeper to catch the smell of ceanothus on the breeze, or harvesting the once-a-year bunches of Mâche from the vegetable garden. We might get a quart of milk from a friend who keeps a herd of small, brown goats, and make a recipe like this week's sublime recipe for lemon cheese.

My dear friend Sheng shared this recipe with me, and taught me everything I know about goats, besides. When I kept a small herd of dairy goats, this cheese was a staple, quick and easy to make, and full of rich flavors fro milk, herbs, lemon, and oil. Just a single bite takes me back to those dairy goat days, and the taste of spring somehow, in the soft white curds and the herbs strewn over top of the cheese. A few early borage flowers always made for such a lovely presentation, too. I know what I'll be making for a light dinner, soon; a pile of this cheese atop the incredible bounty of lettuce and Mâche from the garden this year. Soup and bread would make it downright delightful. There's still a few jars of last year's tomato soup on the shelf, but this weather has us dreaming of what varieties we'll grow next year.

Already folks down at the feed and farm are asking about tomato starts, and with weather like this it is hard to keep the enthusiasm in check. We'll have some of those beloved summer starts soon, friends, though the official planting dates are still at least a month away, and more like two months for those who live in colder areas of the county. If you haven't already done so, now is a great time to get the garden ready for the summer rush. Haul in the compost, and spread it in a rich layer over the soil. Cover the bare ground, to lock the moisture in, with straw or wood chips or leaf duff. Some of us have read a lot about the benefits of no-till farming, which is the practice of layering new organic material on top of the existing soil, without mechanical (or manual) disruption and turning over of the soil with a tractor or shovels. While we know that it is beneficial to refrain from tilling the soil in this way, there is a hard balance to be struck for those of us who live in the redwood forest. The voracious redwood roots will stretch for hundreds of feet to infiltrate a garden bed; unchecked, they will fill a raised bed with their thirsty roots, and efficiently strip out much of the moisture and nutrients in the soil. Firs will do this, too, and pines, as well as fruit trees like avocado and citrus. While you can't blame a tree for trying, it can be a herculean task to stay ahead of the dogged progress of tree roots. We all have to share this space, so gardening becomes an ongoing process of compromise. Once every few years, we strip the raised beds down, digging out all the soil, severing the net of tree roots that have woven through the soil, and sifting the soil from them. Then we layer the soil back in, along with some new compost, to make a clear planting place for the next round of crops. Slowly, over the seasons, the roots creep back in, but it takes them a while to regain their advantage. My friend Heidi, a wise and thoughtful mountain gardener, calls this "dancing with roots", a nod to the way that we move in response to each other; tree and vegetable and human. One could turn this biannual turnover into a metaphor about battle, or dominance, a vegetable war against the enemy tree roots, but really, there is enough of that in the world, isn't there? We are dancing, is what we are doing, shifting resources and advantages back and forth, without anger or blame, with an acceptance of the forces that govern the world we live in. Stasis is a dead zone; this shifting, dancing place is where the deepest lessons are learned, and the sweetest fruits are harvested. This year, it's time again to turn over the soil in the raised beds, and mulch the thirsty avocado tree deeply as well, to make up for the loss of water and nutrients that it invested in root growth to get from the garden beds. After the compost is applied, and the dancing roots cut away, take stock of the season, the temperatures, and your hopes for the season. Might there be time for a last planting of broccoli, or lettuce perhaps? Many varieties can be ready in about 50 days. The place I have set aside for tomatoes has already had the individual gopher cages I'll use for solanums dug into the compost and soil, but in between the gopher cages, I'll plant broccoli, so that, when the time comes, I can slip the tomato starts into the ground amidst the broccoli, right as the broccoli is getting ready to harvest, while the tomato starts are still so small. As the season progresses, and the tomatoes stretch to six feet and higher, there will be no remaining planting space amidst the towering vines. Dancing with harvest dates, dancing with roots, dancing in the garden under a blue spring sky, dancing and digging and dreaming of what might be possible.

By Jessica Tunis